In the past couple seasons, Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert has shown a tendency to draft defense in the early rounds. He went with Joe Haden and TJ Ward in 2010, then Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard in 2011.
There is no reason to believe this will stop.
When Joe Haden was drafted, there were mixed emotions. Some fans thought he was a good selection while others believed the Browns just missed out on Ndamukong Suh and Eric Berry, so they took the consolation prize.
Haden has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong. Since his arrival, he has shown many things.
1. His six interceptions in his rookie season shows he has a knack for the ball.
2. He shut down some top receivers like Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and AJ Green. In every game, their receivers mentioned showing their frustration by getting a little too physical.
3. He is one of the best open-field tackling corners in the league.
4. He has tremendous makeup speed, so never count on him being burned deep.
5. He is not afraid to be physical.
These are great qualities in a young corner, and any team in the league would love to have Joe. He even managed to have his name mentioned in the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
One of his best qualities that went unmentioned is his embrace of the city of Cleveland. From his Serpentini Chevrolet commercials to his constant appearances at Indian and Cavalier games, the man loves Cleveland.
Alongside him at many of the Indian and Cavalier games is fellow deepback TJ Ward. To see players attend these games alongside one another is a breath of fresh air.
Ironically enough, TJ Ward's selection was slightly controversial as well. Very few people saw him being selected, if anybody at all.
His rookie season turned many heads with his knack for always being near the ball and his consistent hard hitting. He lead the Browns in tackles in 2010 with 123 total tackles.
His production slipped slightly in 2011, especially considering his injury, but TJ has talent and was a solid draft choice.
After Heckert improved the secondary in 2010, he went to work on the defensive line in this summer's past draft.
His first selection, after a trade down and a trade up, was defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Despite the weight issues and character concerns, Heckert was confident in Taylor.
As of now, Taylor seems to be streaky. He was quiet in the preseason until he broke onto the scene in the last game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Right now, Taylor is fifth in sacks for defensive tackles with four. He has the potential to be a disruptive force; he just needs to learn how to be consistent with it.
His second selection, despite being considered a bust before the preseason even began, is quietly having a good season. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard was the runner-up for the defensive player of the week in Week 6 against the Oakland Raiders.
In his rookie season so far, he has recorded 29 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. That is impressive for a bust.
He may be undersized or he may not be, but he seems to get to the quarterback and cause turnovers. Throw in his high motor and he can be a key piece to this up-and-coming defense.
Still, Heckert cannot stop here. The Browns are in the AFC North and all of their divisional rivals have top defenses. In order to compete, the Browns need to match them.
In the 2012 draft, there are many great defensive players to choose from, and with two first-round selections, landing some of them shouldn't be an issue.
Linebackers: Vontaze Burfict, Manti Te'o, Luke Kuechly, Zach Brown, Dont'a Hightower
Defensive Ends: Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, Devon Still, Ronnell Lewis, Jerel Worthy
Cornerbacks: Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick, Alphonso Dennard, Janoris Jenkins, Chase Minnifield
There are plenty more where that came from. Considering, however, how the Browns seem to need more help with run defense than anything, they may lean towards linebackers and defensive ends over improving their secondary.
Linebacker here is a must. The Ravens have Ray Lewis. The Steelers have James Harrison. The 49ers have Patrick Willis. The Browns need that tough, hard-hitting linebacker with a mean streak and an attitude.
D'Qwell Jackson is a good linebacker. He makes solid tackles and is a good leader but is not the best at his position. The Browns can do better and should do their best to improve at the position.
This could be either Burfict or Te'o. The one thing Burfict has over Te'o is his instincts. Many of his college highlights seem to be him jumping the snap count and breaking down the backfield.
If the Browns are smart, they will jump on Burfict if they get the opportunity.
When it comes to either defensive end or corner, it could be a tossup.
Jayme Mitchell had been nothing special this season and Sheldon Brown is aging more and more every day. If they could snag a linebacker, defensive end and corner with their first three picks, the Browns defense could be great sooner rather than later.
This is not expected, however, as the Browns offense is abysmal, and Heckert likes to add some offense. Examples: Monatrio Hardesty and Greg Little.
Nonetheless, the Browns are starting to lay a foundation and need to keep adding defensive players even if it's just one at a time. If they continue to do so, the Orange and Brown could be crushing opposing offenses like the old days.
Here is to the rest of the 2011 season and the future of the Cleveland Browns. Hoping all goes well!